March 2022 eNews Guest Editor, Dionte Gavin (LT 38)

But for Leadership Tallahassee.


Let’s take a trip back to the year 2020, a year most of us would soon forget – a global pandemic and economic recession. It was also a year of American cultural reckoning on social and racial injustice.

But for Samantha Loebig, LT 37 pulling me aside at an event one spring evening and telling me about LT and recommending I should apply. I clearly remember seeing the conviction in her eyes and hearing the passion in her recommendation. Sam, thank you for lighting the fuse under me!

So, I’m contemplating applying. What next?

But for the incomparable Darryl Jones, LT 20 sharing an elevator with me one afternoon. Darryl, as only he can do, invited me to stop by his office. I obliged as I would never say no to Mr. Jones! He invited me to the Program Preview Party taking place that evening. I threw on a sports coat (navy!) and off I went. I learned about the program, saw several familiar faces and instantly felt like I was where I was destined to be. I knew I wanted to be a part of these servant and community leaders. This was all the motivation I needed. Thank you, Darryl.

So, I decided to apply. What next?

But for Joshua DeSha, LT 33 who was volunteering at the Application Workshop. He provided sound advice to me and the other applicants that sunny day in the Chamber’s conference room. I took heed to his advice and listened intently as I didn’t want to miss anything that could possibly help me with filling out my application. Thank you, Josh.

The moment of truth had arrived – I’m accepted! What next?


Imagine meeting 35 individuals who all share one common goal but differ personally in countless ways. Different professions. Different upbringing. Different ethnicities. Different races and even different zip codes. So, what’s that common goal you ask? Making Tallahassee a better community and leading the city forward. A goal that may seem very daunting given the hyper-partisan evolution of modern society. To my delight, Leadership Tallahassee has managed to perfect the assembly of diverse individuals each year for the past 39 (almost 40!) years. A flawless blend of individuals who support and challenge each other all in the interest of improving Tallahassee. I’m confident you all will reiterate my sentiments. Whether learning about restorative justice, education, economic development, arts and culture, or healthcare we’ve all left changed for the better.

So, remember it’s 2020. I recall the candid discussions regarding education and the pandemic’s effect on school age children during Education Day. Children who didn’t have access to internet at home let alone a personal laptop required for virtual learning. This was not an abstract scene happening in a remote corner of the country—this was happening in front of our eyes to our friends and neighbors here in Tallahassee. I vividly recall the look of dogged determination in the eyes of my LT classmates who worked tirelessly in Leon County to solve these issues so our children could continue to go to school.

I recall during Public Safety Day the frank and honest conversations surrounding race relations and its effect on every single one of my classmates. My friend, brother, and classmate, Bobby Green, told raw and emotional stories of his time overseeing those who patrol the streets of Leon County. To hear him speaking of his experience as a black law enforcement officer during the George Floyd protests left us speechless yet increased our unyielding respect for him. Even more so for me, a black male. Our class rallying around him in support and sometimes tears – assuring that we supported and appreciated the often thankless work of law enforcement.  

I recount the discussions during Economic Development Day. Travel halted, hotel occupancy plummeted, restaurants and attractions shuttered. As “CLOSED” signs began to appear in the windows of dozens then hundreds of local businesses, we knew a devastating negative economic impact was going to hit Tallahassee hard. Not only were business owners struggling, but so too were their employees who lost jobs and their ability to support their families. As an advocate for the tourism industry, I was now faced with unprecedented challenges about how to quickly, but safely, encourage visitation to Tallahassee.

Leaders are forged in the fires of such challenges. My classmates and I became singularly focused on converting the obstacles of the pandemic into opportunities – locally. Without the benefit of hindsight, we were learning on the fly, and making decisions with information that seemed to shift daily. While this period was extremely stressful, it was also incredibly rewarding. Leaders lead, so that’s what we did. Our program days undergirded that.

Had it not been for LT graduates like Sam, Darryl, and Josh who played an instrumental role in my recruitment, I wouldn’t be writing to you all today. For their time, encouragement, effort, and volunteerism, I am truly thankful.

Imagine Tallahassee during LT 1, or even LT 21. The changes and improvements to each corner of the city over the last four decades has been nothing short of spectacular. No longer is Tallahassee a sleepy little town, but a vibrant, and dynamic city that I’m proud to call home. I know many people reading this had direct impacts on those changes. That’s the beauty of this program.

Today, I am privileged to find myself surrounded with professionals whose passion is telling the world why they should visit Tallahassee/Leon County. Our Capital City is a pretty and unexpected place to live, work, play, and VISIT! Humbly, I believe with all my heart the community is moving in the right direction – in large part because of tirelessly selfless leaders like you.

Having served as the Recruitment Chair for Class 40 alongside a group of hardworking passionate committee members to recruit the next best class is something I will cherish forever. Even though we are all alums now, I implore all of us to stay actively engaged in cultivating the next class of leaders…and the next…and the next. Let our unique and dynamic perspectives be the spark that ignites the passion of future leaders. This is our legacy and our responsibility. Please join me at the Program Preview Party and maybe you’ll be the one who invites the candidate who throws on a navy blazer (or dress) and applies to Leadership Tallahassee!

I can’t wait to meet the next group of leaders who will pick up the baton and carry it on during Leadership Tallahassee’s 40th Anniversary Year.

But for Leadership Tallahassee.


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